They may not have won either title, but Mercedes have nonetheless progressed perhaps more than any other team on the grid from 2012 to 2013. There are still two races remaining in the 2013 season, but with 17 races done this year it’s a good time to assess just how well the team from Brackley has done.
In 2012, Mercedes finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with 142 points. The team recorded one victory (Rosberg won in China), one pole position (again, Rosberg in China. It’s worth remembering that Schumacher qualified fastest in Monaco but had a grid penalty from the previous race) and three podium finishes. Although 2012 saw the first win for the Silver Arrows since returning to the grid in 2010, it was their least successful season in terms of the Constructors’ Championship in the same period.
At the end of 2012, Mercedes were considered to be about 1.5 seconds off the pace. That’s a long, long way. It seemed impossible that Mercedes could make up that deficit in just one off-season. But that’s precisely what they did.
Mercedes came out fighting in 2013, immediately challenging strongly in qualifying and delivering the sort of race pace that had been unimaginable in 2012. They struggled a bit with tyre management, which had been a problem for the team ever since Pirelli arrived on the scene in 2011. But those issues were generally manageable and were eventually sorted out.
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have dominated the last seven races. But before that, the season was quite open, and Mercedes were strong challengers. In the first 11 races of the season, a Mercedes driver qualified on pole position 8 times – 5 for Hamilton, including 4 in a row, and 3 in succession for Rosberg – and the Silver Arrows recorded three wins – 2 for Rosberg and 1 for Hamilton.
Between them, Hamilton and Rosberg have stood on the podium 9 times so far in 2013 – 5 times for Hamilton and 4 for Rosberg. They’ve each scored more points than the team as a whole managed in 2012 and both are in the top six in the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton has a chance (albeit a small one) of finishing second in the championship. It’s more likely that he will overhaul Kimi Raikkonen for third place, as the Finn is just 8 points ahead of Hamilton with two races to go.
The Mercedes team of 2013 has stood out as the most improved outfit on the grid. This season the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships proved out of reach, but not by nearly as much as before. The amount of performance gained in the last off-season bodes well for next year, when massive regulation changes make pre-season development perhaps more crucial than ever.
Where Mercedes have perhaps fallen behind this year has been their in-season development. Winning championships is not just about producing a competitive car. The car must continually be improved and updated throughout the season or the competitive edge will be lost to other teams who are able to develop faster. This year it’s been Red Bull who have impressed most in their ability to improve their car through the season, and they have been rewarded with both championships for the fourth year in succession.
It could turn out that Mercedes are more capable of in-season development than they revealed this season. Next year’s major regulation changes – new power units and various aerodynamic changes – have meant that all teams have had to allocate some resources to next year’s car quite early in the season or perhaps even before this year started. Next year there will not be such a need to split resources early on, and as a result the true development potential of the Mercedes team should be seen in on-track performance in 2014.
Based on their massive progress from 2012 to 2013, Mercedes can be counted on to produce a competitive car for 2014. It will almost certainly be a race-winning car and, if they continue to improve as they’ve done over the last year or so, there’s a chance it could be a championship-winning car.
First and second practice for the 2013 German Grand Prix are over, and yielded few surprises. Red Bull and Mercedes are clear favourites for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race. Behind them are Lotus and Ferrari, neither team quite quick enough to make a strong challenge but strong enough to pick up the pieces if anything goes wrong with the leading two teams. And then there are the midfield teams – McLaren, Force India, Toro Rosso – who will compete for the final points positions. Last, the teams that have been struggling all season – Sauber, Williams, Caterham and Marussia.
The days leading up to the German Grand Prix weekend have been full of tyre talk. Pirelli have come under intense fire for the multiple tyre failures that occurred during last weekend’s British Grand Prix. The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (that represents most, but not all, of the current F1 drivers) got together on Thursday and issued a statement to the effect that the drivers would withdraw from the German Grand Prix if it became apparent that similar tyre failures were present this weekend.
But, thankfully, tyre concerns seem unnecessary. Two 90-minute practice sessions on Friday proceeded without even a hint of a tyre problem. In fact, the opposite was true. The tyres lasted well, and produced consistent lap times over long runs. It looks like Pirelli have hit the nail on the head with the changes they made to the rear tyres leading up to this race.
Those changes concerned the material used for the belt that runs around the tyre under the tread. The 2013 Pirelli tyres were designed with a steel belt that made the surface of the tyres very stiff and flat. The idea behind the steel belt was to make sure that as much of the tyre surface as possible would be in contact with the track surface, which would make it easier to warm up the rear tyres.
But unfortunately, the tyre construction has proven to be problematic, with failures occurring at various races in the early part of the season. And so, after last weekend’s fiasco at the British Grand Prix, the steel belt has been ditched and replaced with a kevlar belt. And so far it seems to be working well.
Pirelli have brought their medium and soft compound tyres to the German Grand Prix. Friday practice showed that there is a difference in performance between the compounds of between eight tenths and a second per lap on low fuel. The soft tyre is, as expected, the quicker of the two compounds, but it is also wearing quite a bit faster than the medium compound. That could make for an interesting first half of the race, as there are likely to be markedly different tyre strategies through the field.
The top ten drivers on the grid are required to start the race on their qualifying tyres, which means they will almost certainly all be on the soft tyres while running heavy fuel tanks in the early part of the race. Those who qualify 11th to 22nd have a choice of tyres for the start of the race, which gives them the option of running the more durable medium tyres while their cars are heavy with fuel.
We could, therefore, see a situation where one of the midfield cars spends some time leading in the middle phase of the race. That would be the result of the front-runners pitting early when their soft tyres wear out, but the midfield runners still having life in their medium tyres. The order should even out by the end of the race, as the difference in performance between the front-runners and the midfield is large enough that tyre strategy will make very little difference to the outcome of the race.
Red Bull were on top in the second practice session of the day, but Mercedes are not far behind. The Silver Arrows drivers both complained of understeer after Friday practice, which is something the engineers will work to cure before third practice tomorrow morning. It does suggest that Mercedes have not yet shown their full pace, which is ominous for the rest of the field.
The broad conclusions that can be drawn from Friday practice are: 1. Red Bull and Mercedes are likely to fight for pole position and victory; and 2. Tyres are not likely to play a significant part in determining the outcome of the race.